LeBron Who? 'Casey at the Bat' Was Hating Arrogant Athletes 125 Years Ago

Today, only diehards can name more than a few players from the 1800s, and handlebar moustaches and barehanded fielding have gone out of style. But Casey's downfall is a particular kind of failure that generates what's still a perennially popular narrative in pro sports: the failure of the entitled athlete. In Thayer's poem, Casey strides to the plate with irrepressible confidence in his abilities. Smiling, he "lightly doffed his hat" to the cheering crowd and then watches "in haughty grandeur" as the first pitch soars past. "That ain't my style," Casey sneers, and then proceeds to ignore the second pitch as well, purposefully heightening the dramatic tension in order to emerge an even greater hero.

Casey's downfall is a particular kind of failure that generates what's still a perennially popular narrative in pro sports: the failure of the entitled athlete.

There may be no joy in Mudville when Casey strikes out, but readers feel a tinge of righteous satisfaction.

Casey's downfall illustrates the enduring sports dictum that arrogance, both on and off the playing field, should never go unpunished. That truism is why many NBA fans turned against LeBron James when he took his talents to South Beach, and then felt vindicated when his Miami Heat were trounced in the Finals the next season by the Dallas Mavericks. It's also why it is more gratifying for some to watch Alex Rodriguez go down on strikes than blast another pitch into Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.

As the poem's foremost orator, Hopper understood this negative, schadenfreude allure. In his memoir, Hopper stated that egotistical baseball legend Babe Ruth could "miss the third strike just as furiously as he can meet it, and the contrast between the terrible threat of his swing and the futility of the result is a banquet for the malicious, which includes us all. There is no more completely satisfactory drama in literature than the fall of Humpty Dumpty." And as the ageless appeal of Thayer's poem demonstrates, it's a compelling—and unifying—sports scenario when a puffed-up icon like Casey falls flat on his face. Today, even casual followers are familiar with Casey's epic whiff. So perhaps the real moral of the 125-year history of "Casey at the Bat" is that the agonizing failure of an overblown ego is timeless.

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Luke Epplin is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in The Daily Beast, the New Yorker Page-Turner, and n+1

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